by Nolan Crabb
At first glance, the several boxes of brailled cards Oral Miller held in his hands seemed ordinary enough. They were, after all, simple cards on which he had brailled relatively cryptic notes.
I saw those cards on a quiet November Saturday afternoon in the ACB national office. I had gone in to the office that day to assist a friend of mine with some modifications being made to the ACB computer network and Internet connections. Oral was in as well, cleaning out his desk and packing up his personal things. His time as executive director of ACB was ending, and he was busy doing all those transitional things one does when he ends one era of his life and embarks upon another.
I was busy at my computer when I noticed Oral was standing in my door. “You have a minute?” he asked. “I’d like you to see this.”
He came into my office and deposited a box of braille cards in my hands. “Go ahead and look through them,” he encouraged.
At random, I began pulling cards out of the box and reading the cryptic notes. Immediately, I realized what I was reading, and I was struck by the immensity of what he was sharing.
Those cards contained information about telephone calls Oral had handled over the nearly 20 years he has been involved with the national office. I realized at that moment that in my hands I held incontrovertible proof that our lives are not ours alone, but rather that we all belong to one another in a very unique and real way.
As I studied those cryptic notes, I began to think about the people who had received direct assistance from Oral that those notes represented. There were cards that dealt with answers to airline regulations, information about technology, answers to questions about ACB policies, help for newly blinded people, ... and the cards went on and on. But rather than cards, I was visualizing a veritable cavalcade of people whose lives had been touched – improved – by the life of one man who stood modestly at my desk with several more boxes of those cards in his hands.
“This is incredible,” I said quietly. “Oh, I have boxes and boxes of these silly things,” he observed nonchalantly. But I knew these cards represented not merely phone calls but changed lives and refocused perspectives and renewed hope and determination — all the legacy of one individual who cares deeply about what this organization stands for and about its ability to provide information and other assistance that improves the lives of blind and visually impaired people everywhere.
If you’ve ever stood reflectively at the foot of a monument or in a place that is meaningful or sacred to you, you know the feeling I had on that Saturday before Thanksgiving. I recognized in those cards the immense value of the monuments we build as we quietly go about our lives lending a hand here and there, simply giving of our time to offer a quiet word of encouragement when it’s needed or answer an anxiously posed question.
I returned the box quietly, knowing that anything I would say would be inadequate in the light of what those cards represented. Perhaps without intentionally doing so, Oral had again reinforced a treasured lesson best summed up by the poet John Greenleaf Whittier who once wrote, “I lift thee, and thee lift me, and we’ll ascend together.” How right he was.
If you’ve flown in recent years, you’ve been the beneficiary of Oral Miller’s efforts in working with various airlines and federal agencies to ensure that regulations regarding blind and disabled travelers were fair and reasonable and to assist in the training of personnel.
If you’ve switched on a radio reading service recently, you’ve benefitted from the efforts of Oral Miller and others on Capitol Hill. It was Oral’s forceful testimony that caused the then-new Republican majority to understand the value of public radio and its association with radio reading services.
Over the years, I've come to realize that Oral’s name is known by cabbies and congressmen, restaurant workers and reporters, and people of all types and varieties in and around Washington. On “Take Your Daughter to Work” days, he always found time to engage my daughters in brief conversation, something relatively insignificant to him perhaps, but to them, it was an important part of the day.
As I contemplated the hours of effort those cards represented, I remembered instances in my time at ACB where Oral’s advice and encouragement was desperately needed and gratefully received. I have always appreciated his ability to separate the person from the performance. As his co-worker, you knew, even in those times when your performance had disappointed him, that his sense of respect and appreciation for you as a person had not diminished. Armed with that knowledge, you could forge ahead, learn from your mistakes, and emerge with new lessons learned and renewed determination to improve.
I’ve tried pretty hard over the years not to take up your valuable time as readers of this magazine with my mental meanderings. But just this once, I hope you’ll understand my need to use some space here to say thanks, good-bye, and good luck to a man who has championed this publication and its cause wherever he went. Like you, I look forward to a new year with all that it entails for ACB. But my personal new year is made far richer because of the kindness and influence of Oral Miller. Thanks, Oral, above all else for your friendship; thanks for the counsel when I needed nudging in the right direction. Thanks for your example, and for continuing to believe, not only in me, but in the individual members of ACB and in blind people everywhere. And yes, thanks for showing me those boxes of cards. Without intending to, you taught anew a lesson I need to relearn from time to time. I needed to be reminded that my decisions and actions directly affect those around me. If only all of society could remember that one valuable principle. You see, I’m a pretty simple-minded guy in some ways. I hold to the idea that we live under the direction of a creator who is not so interested in the number of cars and computers we own or the titles and accolades we pick up while we’re here. But I believe those boxes of cards and all they represent would be keenly interesting to that creator.
Good luck, and those of us who know you look forward to your continued involvement with ACB.